Non-conference holds tests for OU

Sooners could face three teams out of the possible preseason Top 25 early in 2015-16

The Oklahoma men’s basketball nonconference schedule will be officially released within the next month, but there are some major headliners already circled.

Last year, the Sooners nearly won the most prestigious tournament in the nation – falling to then-No. 2 and eventual national runner-up Wisconsin in the championship game.

This year’s schedule won’t include such a prolific tournament, but it will feature a rematch with Wisconsin, which will be without its top two players –a pair likely to be drafted into the NBA.

Oklahoma’s nonconference schedule will be a major test and a major proving ground if the Sooners are going to realize Buddy Hield’s lofty hopes of a Final Four – a declaration he made when announcing that he would return to Oklahoma.

So where does it start?

Wisconsin at Oklahoma, Nov. 29: That’s the schedule date for the Sooners’ first rematch with the Badgers. The two will also play next year in Madison, Wisc.

This year won’t provide quite the challenge that the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship Game held, but don’t think that Wisconsin isn’t the early Big Ten favorite. Last year’s toughest home nonconference game was . . . well, Oklahoma didn’t win by less than 19 points at any point.

Wisconsin will return starting point guard Bronson Koenig to lead a talented backcourt and will matchup well with the Sooners, who are also loaded in the backcourt.

Oklahoma vs. Villanova in Hawaii, Dec. 7: Barely a week after playing Wisconsin, the Sooners will travel for a semi-vacation but a grueling one against the likely Big East Conference favorites.

A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, the Wildcats are coming off one of the best regular seasons in school history and lose just two starters from last year’s team. This will be another step up from last season’s neutral site game against Washington, which didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.

Diamond Head Classic, Dec. 22, 23 and 25: Instead of working over Thanksgiving, Oklahoma hopes to give itself a Christmas present this season. Likely, it will.

The Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament was the best field of any early-season tournament last season. This time around, Oklahoma won’t be an afterthought. The Sooners will be the favorite.

The field features Auburn, BYU, Harvard, Hawai’i, New Mexico, Northern Iowa and Washington State. All but one team from the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament made the NCAA Tournament. Outside of Oklahoma, four teams from the field made this year’s tournament but three finished the season with a losing record.

Oklahoma at Memphis, TBD: Another big step up for Oklahoma, which played Creighton in its toughest nonconference true road game last season. Memphis lost in the America East quarterfinals last season but lost only 4.5 points per game from last year’s squad.

The SEC/Big 12 Challenge: Here is a secret game that could make Oklahoma’s nonconference schedule the toughest in the country.

There is no set matchup between the conferences, but the Sooners could draw the Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky and Kansas also haven’t met in the challenge but played last season outside of the challenge. If Oklahoma winds up facing the Wildcats, that’s an entirely different challenge.

The Wildcats will be loaded.

Ultimate conclusion: The Sooners’ nonconference schedule will include at least two teams generally believed to be in the preseason Top 25 – and maybe three if Oklahoma draws Kentucky in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. It’s a major step up from last year when the Sooners played just three teams that were more than one game over .500 outside of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

This slate will prove Oklahoma’s worth.

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